Moses Fleetwood Walker was born in 1856 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. It as a town in the eastern part of the state and was known as a sanctuary for runaway slaves. His parents were Moses W Walker and Caroline O’Harra who both were mixed race.
At three years of age his family moved to Steubenville, Ohio and his dad became the first black physician in the state. Later in life his dad was a Methodist Episcopal Church minister. Walker and his brother Weldy attended Steubenville High School as the school had integrated racial equality.
In 1878, he enrolled in Oberlin College where he majored in philosophy and the arts. He was particularly a good student in mechanics and rhetoric. He began attending classes less frequently and began playing baseball. He was the leadoff hitter and catcher for the Oberlin prep school baseball team. He was not the only black baseball player as they had a “jet black” first baseman on the squad. Walker gained the attention of the local newspaper because of his flawless defense and ability to smack home runs.
Weldy joined Walker at Oberlin in 1881 and played on their first official collegiate team. By all accounts, Walker was so good in the season finals, the University of Michigan recruit him to play for them. There were no formal transfer rules at the time. Walker left for Michigan with his pregnant girlfriend, Arbella Taylor and went to Ann Arbor. Walker and Arbella married about a year later. Michigan didn’t have a good catcher so Walker was their man. He performed well and in 1882 they finished 10-3 for the season. He hit .3-8 for the year and batted second in the lineup.
He also played semi professionally for the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland in 1881. Being black was a controversial thing when they showed up to play in Louisville. He wasn’t allowed to stay at the Cloud Hotel. Then at game time several members of the Louisville team had issue playing against him. The team Cleveland team relented and the game began without Walker on the field.
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In 1883, he signed a pro contract to play for the Toledo Blue Stockings.He was well thought of for his durability an play behind the plate. Playing with virtually no equipment, He was in 60 of their 84 games.
There were many issues with him playing in the pro leagues. the Executive committee of the Northwestern League debated whether to prohibit colored players from joining a team in the league. In fact, the rep from the Peoria, Illinois was to prohibit colored players. The motion was debated, the motion was dropped and Walker was allowed to play. More issues arose on August 10,1883, when the Chicago White Stockings manager Cap Anson refused to play if Walker was in the lineup. In return,the Toledo manager warned Anson about the gate receipts he would lost out on if they didn’t play.
Anson is alleged to have said “We’ll play this here game, but won’t play never no more with the nigger in”. The White Stockings won in extra innings 7–6.
Career stats– 42 Games,152 AB, 40 Hits,23 runs,0HR, ,263 BA
Moses Fleetwood Walker- Later life
Walker was a smart guy and he was following a former Syracuse professor, Dr Joel Gilbert Justin, who was working with artillery shells with gunpowder rather than compressed air an it was a failure. Walker designed and patented an outer casing in 1891 that remedied Justin’s failure. The first of his four patented inventions, Walker invested in the design with hopes it would be in great demand, but the shell never garnered enough interest.
Walker got into an altercation with four white men that was racially motivated and one of them threw a stone at his head just grazing it. Walker ended up stabbing the man with a pocket knife. He was arrested and charged with second degree murder
On June 3, 1891, Walker was found not guilty by an all-white jury, much to the delight of spectators in the courthouse. He returned to Steubenville to, again, work for the postal service, handling letters for the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad. Walker’s wife, Arabella died at the age of 32 of cancer. Three years later he married Ednah Mason. She was formerly an Oberlin student.
In 1895, he was found guilty of mail robbery and sentenced to a year in prison. After his release he and his brother Weldy opened and jointly own Hotel in Steubenville,Ohio. They managed the Opera House also. Walker became respected business man.
His wife Ednah died on May 26, 1920 and he sold his business holdings. ON May 11,1924, Moses Fleetwood Walker died at the age of 67 and he is buried at Union Cemetery-Beatty Park next to his first wife. Many tell you that Jackie Robinson was the first player of color to play professional baseball but it really was Walker.
James Thomas McGuire
November 18, 1863 at Youngstown, OH (USA)
October 31, 1936 at Duck Lake, MI (USA)
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